Construction Workers Have Found a Trove of Papers Under the Floorboards of Vincent van Gogh’s London Home

Van Gogh stayed at the house as a troubled young art dealer from 1873 to 1874.

Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (1889). Copyright Musée d’Orsay, RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmid.

A book of prayers and hymns has been found beneath the floorboards of the house where Vincent van Gogh stayed as a troubled young art dealer in London. Among the unexpected findings were a wad of crumpled papers and other documents, some of which date to the period the Dutch artist would have been in residence, from 1873 to 1874.

During his stay in London, Van Gogh became a devout Christian and later a missionary, but he turned to art after failing the entrance exam to study theology. That’s makes it quite possible that he read the religious pamphlet, titled A Penny Pocket Book of Prayers and Hymns (1867).

Old papers have been found under the floorboards of 87 Hackford Road, where Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873 and 1874. Photo by Martin Bailey.

Old papers have been found under the floorboards of 87 Hackford Road, where Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873 and 1874. Photo by Martin Bailey.

The papers also include include the insurance policy for the property and watercolor paintings of decorative flowers, but they do not appear to be by Van Gogh’s hand.

The terrace house in Stockwell, South London, which has been empty for years, is currently being restored. Former violinist Jian “James” Wang and his wife, Alice Childs, hope to convert the building into a residence for visiting Chinese artists. Their daughter Livia, an architect, is overseeing the light renovation of the property.

A prayer book found under the floorboards at 87 Hackford Road, where Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873 and 1874. Photo by Martin Bailey.

A prayer book found under the floorboards at 87 Hackford Road, where Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873 and 1874. Photo by Martin Bailey.

The couple bought the home in 2012 for £565,000 ($748,000). At the time, Wang said that “I cannot afford to buy Van Gogh’s paintings, so I bought his house,” reports the Art Newspaper.

Previously, the house at 87 Hackford Road had belonged to the same family since 1947, and had only undergone minor renovations, partially to repair bombing damage from World War II. That meant much of the original interior from the 1850s had been preserved.

Landlady Ursula Loyer's insurance policy for 87 Hackford Road, where Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873 and 1874. Photo by Martin Bailey.

Landlady Ursula Loyer’s insurance policy for 87 Hackford Road, where Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873 and 1874. Photo by Martin Bailey.

On the heels of the announcement of the new discovery, the Tate Britain will present “Van Gogh and Britain,” an exhibition co-curated by Martin Bailey about the artist’s time in the London and the influence that British culture had on his work.

The show will feature a nearly life-size photograph of the facade of 87 Hackford Road, reports the Guardian. Although Van Gogh did not begin studying art until 1880, a drawing found at his former London home in 1973 that depicts the building was at one time thought to be among his earliest works.

A drawing of 87 Hackford Road, possibly by Vincent van Gogh. Courtesy of a private collection.

A drawing of 87 Hackford Road, possibly by Vincent van Gogh. Courtesy of a private collection.

Van Gogh “sketched while he was in London, but he was very much an amateur,” Bailey told CNN. “Most of the sketches are lost, but the few surviving ones give no indication of the talent that he would later develop.”

“Van Gogh and Britain” is on view at the Tate Britain, Millbank, London, March 27–August 11, 2019. 


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